The increasing publicity of the United States’ use of torture, domestically and abroad, has sparked a lively debate regarding the American values and laws and permissibility of torture. The Jewish scholarly community has been a vocal part of this debate. This paper begins by providing a concise account of the existing laws regarding torture internationally and in the us. It then highlights the Jewish rabbinic community’s involvement in the debate. It then proceeds to provide an account of torture in Judaism that outlines the existing legalistic and theological understandings of it. It will end by proffering a theological account of torture that is hoped to be novel.
Hammer (1986) has pointed to two key approaches to the problem of suffering in Judaism. First a theological one i.e. a rational explanation that reveals Gods intentions. The key source for this approach is the Book of Job. Second a practical one that instructs the faithful to comfort and help the people in distress without giving any thought to rewards or legal obligations (hesed). This approach is indicated in the Book of Ruth. [Reuven Hammer ‘Two Approaches to the Problem of Suffering’ Judaism 35:3 (1986) 300–305.]
Eugene B. Borowitz‘God and Man in Judaism Today: A reform Perspective’Judaism23:3 (1974) 298–308 at 303.
Barbara Krawcowicz‘Paradigmatic Thinking and Holocaust Theology’Journal of Jewish Thought & Philosophy22 (2014) 164–189at 165. Of paradigmatic thinking in Judaism see Jacob Neusner ‘Paradigmatic versus Historical Thinking: The Case of Rabbinic Judaism’ History and Theory 36 (1997) 353–377.
E. Feld‘Developing a Jewish Theology regarding Torture’Theology Today63 (2006) 324–329at 325–326. Also see Martin A. Bertman ‘The Hebrew Encounter with Evil’ Apeiron: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science 9:1 (1975) 43–47.
William Orbach‘The Four faces of God: Toward a Theology of Powerlessness’Judaism32:2 (1983) 236–247. Also see Harold Fisch ‘The Absent God’ Judaism 21:4 (1972) 415–427. According to the rabbinic tradition Shekhinah is primarily a synonym for God or God’s presence in this world which is diminished by sin and strengthened by good deeds [see Howard Schwartz Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism (ny: Oxford University Press 2004) p. 51]. God yearns for the return of the sinful to Him: ‘Return ye backsliding children [and] I will heal your backsliding’ (Jer. 3:22). It has also been suggested that Shekhina is a name of God similar to Adonai or ha-Shem. See for example Ephraim E. Urbach The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press 1975). Also see Max Kidushin The Rabbinic Mind (New York: Bloch Pub. Co. 1972).
Samuel H. Dresner‘Prayer, Humility and Compassion’Judaism3:1 (1954) 27–36. It should be noted that a psychological approach to “evil inclination” emphasizes its sexual qualities. As such if kept within limits it is an instinctual power that is the basis of life and worldly activity. In this role it is similar to Freud’s libido [see Norman S. Goldman ‘Mythology of Evil in Judaism’ Journal of Religion and Health 15:4 (1976) 230–240]. In excess however it will result in violating the divine law [Jeremy Cohen ‘Original Sin as the Evil Inclination: A Polemicist’s Appreciation of Human Nature’ The Harvard Theological Review 73:3/4 (1980) 495–520].
Lloyd R. Bailey‘Death as a Theological Problem in the Old Testament’Pastoral Psychology22:9 (1971) 20–32. Also see Andre Mayes ‘The Nature of Sin and its origins in the Old Testament’ Irish Theological Quarterly 40 (1973) 250–263.